Lot 12
  • 12

Lorenzo Lotto

200,000 - 300,000 GBP
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  • Lorenzo Lotto
  • Portrait of an architect
  • oil on canvas
  • 32½in by 44½in
Half length, seated, with instruments on his table


Antonio Fidanza, Milan;

From whom purchased by James Irvine on behalf of Sir William Forbes, 7th Baronet of Pitsligo (1773–1828), of Fettercairn, Kincardineshire, on 2 July 1827, in Milan, for 50 Louis (as a Portrait of Sansovino by Titian);

By descent to his son Sir John Stuart Hepburn-Forbes, 8th Baronet of Pitsligo (1804–1866);

By inheritance to his son-in-law Charles Trefusis, 20th Baron Clinton (1834–1904);

Thence by descent to the present owner.


Edinburgh, National Galleries of Scotland, The Age of Titian, Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections, 5 August – 5 December 2004, no. 33.


Fettercairn House inventory, 1917 (as 'Sansovino by Jacopo Bassano'; Front Hall);

Fettercairn House inventory, 1930 (as 'Sansovino. Titian [crossed out]. Jacopo Bassano'; Hall);

P. Humfrey in The Age of Titian, Venetian Renaissance Art from Scottish Collections, P. Humfrey, T. Clifford, A. Weston-Lewis and M. Bury (eds), exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 5 August – 5 December 2004, pp. 120–21, no. 33, reproduced in colour;

C. Campbell, 'Venice in Edinburgh', Apollo, CLX, no. 511, September 2004, p. 92, reproduced in colour;

N. Penny, 'At the Royal Scottish Academy', in the London Review of Books, vol. 26, no. 20, 21 October 2004, p. 34;

J. Fletcher, 'The Age of Titian. Edinburgh', under Exhibition Reviews, The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXLVI, no. 1220, November 2004, p. 779, reproduced in black and white, fig. 88.


The following condition report is provided by Simon Howell who is an external specialist and not an employee of Sotheby's: The painting is in oil on a lined canvas, attached to a wooden stretcher. The stretcher is a modern design and no doubt dates to the recent lining. It has a cross-bar and traditional keyed bridle joints. The stretcher is in good condition and is providing a good support for the canvas. The artist's original canvas has been lined onto a linen material using wax as an adhesive. The plane of the canvas is good, with no undulations. There are some horizontal ridges in the sitter's left sleeve that are most probably caused by some thinning of the original canvas fibers on the verso of the support. From the X-Radiograph one can see that the original canvas is slightly smaller than the stretcher size by about 1cm. This would explain why there is retouching around all four edges. The X-Radiograph and the Infra-Red images show areas where the ground is lost, notably in the upper two corners. The shape of these damages together with a slight horizontal damage in the background in line with the sitter's left shoulder, and a vertical line of paint loss in the sitter's left collar, suggest that the canvas may have been folded and creased during its history. There is a right-angled tear about 3x4 cm in the set-square resting on the surface of the green table. Wax as a lining adhesive was in favour after the war and declined after the 1970's. This may give some indication of when the painting was re-lined, (although wax as a lining adhesive continues to be used in some studios to the present day). The wax lining has given the support a rather stiff appearance. Some of the original 'drape' of the canvas could be revived in a future re-lining, using a more sympathetic technique. The artist has commenced painting with a vigorous brush drawing in an X-ray opaque pigment such as lead white. This is readily seen in the X-radiograph as a series of broad strokes – for example in the sitter's left sleeve. There is also a fine set of drawn lines placing the set-square and compass. The upper layers of paint are painted in broad strokes that allow the warm ground to show through. The flesh is painted opaquely followed by thinly glazed modeling for the features in a dark translucent layer of paint. The dynamic compositional technique has led to several pentimenti or changes of mind; for example, around the contour of the sitter's left arm; his cloak in the lower right corner; the position of the tools resting on the green table; the sitter's left hand and the size and position of his collar. The sitter's left hand is difficult to interpret in the X-radiograph, but at some stage in the design, it seems to have been held palm down on a flat surface. The slight diagonal leading in to the picture plane to the left of the hand, (as seen by the viewer) could have been a small table or arm of a chair. Again, this is a matter of speculation, but broad sweeps seen in the X-radiograph, in the sitter's cloak, inside his left arm, could have been a sketch for a large book or portfolio. The paint surface has become thin and worn during its history. Broad retouching has been employed to disguise the effect and to integrate the image. This retouching is excessive and now poorly matched, compromising the subtlety of the drawing and the sense of space. Some of this effect is evident from the X-radiograph, as small dark or X-Ray transparent dots in the background, particularly in the face and right hand of the sitter. Some colours have proved more susceptible to injudicious cleaning, notably the upper more transparent layers, such as his beard, the shadow of the green tablecloth and the glazed modulation of the face and hands. Due to the thinned glaze, the painting of the flesh has become somewhat compromised, leaving details, such as the nose, eyes and ear as indications of the image's quality. The sitter's left hand has been ineptly assisted with retouching, and is consequently rather, 'wooden', thereby inhibiting an appreciation of the artist's original brush-work. While the painting is adversely affected by the current retouching, there is every reason to believe that a future restoration could reveal far more of the artist's original paint and with a more prudent and thoughtful restoration, significantly improve the appearance of the image. The painting has been varnished with a coating that is not decayed or discoloured and is effective in saturating the original colours.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

One of the outstanding painters of his generation, Lotto made the greatest contribution in the genre of portraiture, with works that in their presentation are among the most inventive and expressive of the first half of the sixteenth century. This work – a recently discovered addition to Lotto's œuvre – is one of some forty-odd surviving portraits, nearly all of which are now in public collections. It is remarkable for the sparseness of its composition and is characteristic of the painter insofar as pose and expression are used to break with conventions in portraiture, with the sitter engaging directly with the viewer as if in conversation. Probably painted in the 1540s, it would appear to depict an architect who was identified as the great Venetian Jacopo Sansovino when it was acquired in 1827 by the ancestor of the present owner, then with an attribution to Titian.

Acquired for Sir William Forbes as a ‘Portrait of Sansovino by Titian’, neither its traditional identification, nor its attribution has stood the test of time. The portrait was sold to James Irvine (1759–1831) by his business associate and friend, the Milanese dealer Antonio Fidanza on 2 July 1827, together with other works destined for Sir William Forbes. The Fettercairn family papers document the purchase of the portrait by Irvine for the sum of 50 Louis. On the bill it is listed as ‘[Ritratto] del Architetto, e Scultore Sansovino, da Tiziano’. Peter Humfrey was the first to publish this painting as a work by Lotto and as such it is a major addition to Lotto's portraiture.1

Lotto spent much of his career in the Venetian provinces and in The Marches, where he painted many altarpieces and devotional paintings, as well as portraits. Commissions for the latter stemmed from the same social circles as the patrons of his religious pictures. His activity in both genres was mutually beneficial.2 Lotto’s patrons included well-educated merchants, professionals and members of the nobility and he was held in high regard by connoisseurs such as Andrea Odoni, whose celebrated portrait of 1527 is now in the Royal Collection, London. 

The profession of the man depicted here is implied by the attributes beside him – the set-square and the compass suggest he is an architect – but as with a number of Lotto’s portraits, the identity of the sitter cannot be confirmed with certainty.3 Lotto counted among his friends a number of architects living in Venice, including the celebrated theorist Sebastiano Serlio (1475–1553/5); Jacopo Sansovino (1486–1570), whose most significant contribution to the city’s architecture was to transform the appearance of the Piazza San Marco; and Giovanni dal Coro, a master builder from Ancona. While the first two have been discounted as possible candidates because the sitter is too young and the resemblance to a portrait known to portray Sansovino is unconvincing, it has been suggested that Giovanni dal Coro, a close friend and colleague of Lotto’s, may be the man portrayed here.4 If so, their friendship may go some way to explaining the degree of informality seen here. Be that as it may, parallels between the sitter’s melancholic frame of mind and his outward appearance are here rendered by Lotto with tremendous sensitivity, a reflection perhaps of the artist’s concerns with work, status, dress code and the minutiae of everyday life, as his account book and numerous letters attest.

Lotto favoured a three-quarter-length presentation of his sitters and, contrary to convention, frequently adopted a horizontal format, not only when depicting two people, such as the Portrait of a Married Couple in The State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, but also when singling out an individual, as he does here. Examples of portraits executed on broad landscape formats date from his principal period of residence in Venice between 1525 and 1533: that of Odoni, already mentioned above; the Portrait of a Woman inspired by Lucretia of about 1530–32 (National Gallery, London); and the Portrait of a Young Man in his Study of about 1527 (Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice). Furthermore, Lotto shows a predilection for positioning his sitters in leaning poses, designed markedly on the diagonal, so too for the placement of heads near the upper edge of the picture. Figures propped on their elbows recur in his portraiture, lending an air of informal ease to their poses, for instance the Portrait of a gentleman with a golden paw (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), and more crowded compositions such as Giovanni della Volta with his Wife and Children, completed in 1547 (National Gallery, London).

No portrait of an architect fitting this painting’s description is recorded in Lotto’s account book, the Libro di spese diverse, which he kept from 1538 until his death.5 There he recorded in meticulous detail all his expenses, as well as information about the identity of his sitters, though in many cases the descriptions cannot be matched with surviving works. It may be that the present work was omitted, for some pictures by Lotto datable to the period after 1538 were not recorded in the Libro; or the omission may indicate that the portrait was painted before 1538, during Lotto’s stay in The Marches, where he worked from 1533 to 1540. It is also possibile that the painting is listed in the Libro but has gone undetected.

Stylistic comparisons with a number of portraits by Lotto datable to the 1540s that make use of a dark background and a restrained palette have led Humfrey to date this work to about 1540, for instance Febo da Brescia of 1543 (Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan), the Portrait of a Man (Galleria Doria Pamphili, Rome) and the Portrait of an Architect (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). The sitter’s style of clothing offers further clues to the portrait's dating. We are grateful to Jane Bridgeman for the following observations. The sitter wears a black gown with straight sleeves and a wide turned up collar displaying the garment's lining. This type of gown, which looks like a wide, bulky knee-length overcoat, became popular by the early 1540s, when it was worn over an ensemble of doublet and hose. Around the mid-1540s a straighter sleeve, as in his portrait, seems to have been more usual, although a shorter sleeve was also common, as seen in Lotto's Febo da Brescia of 1543. The material of the lining varied according to the seasons – usually of satin or a light silk fabric in summer and of fur in winter. Here the turned-up lapel features a distinctive edging in green along its entire length. The black of the man’s clothing is well preserved and still maintains a good tonal range. A garment of similar cut is worn in a portrait by Lotto of a Gentleman with gloves at the Brera, Milan, a work datable perhaps to 1543 that plays on similarly sombre tones against a plain background.6

Technical imaging offers insights into Lotto’s method, as well as evidence of his changes to the picture while painting it and other modifications that may have been carried out subsequently. The X-radiograph shows the free zig-zagging brushwork used to give structure to the creases of the sitter's coat, rendered by Lotto in a particularly spontaneous manner along the left arm. Lotto reduced the contour of this sleeve and extended the sitter’s flank along a diagonal axis to the picture’s corner, resulting in a striking pyramidal design. The infra-red reflectogram reveals adjustments to the composition as the artist defined different elements: the outline of the collar was brought in; the profile of the sleeves was changed; the sitter's ear was enlarged; and the angle of both instruments on the table top was modified by bringing the objects closer together. Visible with the naked eye is the sleeve that originally covered much of the man’s left hand; pulled back as it is now, more of the hand is revealed, resulting in the sitter's fist appearing more assertively planted on his thigh. The background shows some evidence of alteration. There are traces at the upper right corner of the infra-red image of what may once have been a signature formed of the artist's initials, somewhat comparable in placement and style of lettering to Lotto's signature on his portrait of the Volta Family in the National Gallery. Such lettering, if it ever existed, is now masked by an area of darkened paint, likely already to have been there by the 1820s when the portrait was believed to be by Titian.

Note on Provenance
Unlike the other paintings in the collection, correspondence surrounding the purchase of this painting is scarce due to the very damaged nature of Irvine's letters from June 1827. It is however mentioned by him in the context of a list he provides to Sir William from Milan on 27 June 1827 as one of four pictures for which he has set aside for payment to Antonio Fidanza. Irvine purchased this portrait as work by Titian and the following year he purchased a Lucretia as a work by Giorgione. Both works are in fact by Lotto, the latter being the Lucretia now in the National Gallery, though neither was recognised as such for quite some time. They will have both hung at Fettercairn in the 1830s and 1840s before the Lucretia was sold and, both being in Lotto's landscape format, one leaning in to the left and the other to the right, they must have worked beautifully as pendants if indeed that is how they were hung.

1. Humfrey in Edinburgh 2004, pp. 120–21, no. 33.

2. To give one example, while in Treviso he enjoyed the patronage of Bishop Bernardino de’ Rossi, whose portrait now at Capodimonte, Naples, he painted.

3. Jennifer Fletcher in her review of the exhibition in Edinburgh questioned whether he was an architect since other professions use compasses and set-squares, and he has no plan or drawing to show; Fletcher 2004, p. 779.

4. Humfrey in Edinburgh 2004, p. 120.

5. See P. Zampetti, Lorenzo Lotto: Il libro di spese diverse con aggiunta di lettere e d'altri documenti, Venice–Rome 1969, especially chronological list of commissions on pp. 335–71.

6. Lorenzo Lotto: Rediscovered Master of the Renaissance, D. A. Brown, P. Humfrey and M. Lucco (eds), exhibition catalogue, National Gallery of Art, Washington; Accademia Carrara di Belle Arti, Bergamo; Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 1998–99, New Haven and London 1997, pp. 204–05, no. 45, reproduced in colour.